Glacier.

Getting There

US Highway 2 leaves Whitefish, MT and winds through Columbia Falls (a cool tourist burb), Coram (home of Glacier Distilling and their tasty North Fork Rye) and past West Glacier (Gateway to the Park). And I went past the entrance to the park because vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet are prohibited on Going to the Sun Road. As the crow files, it’s 49 miles from my campground in Whitefish to my campground in St Mary, on the east side of the park. So I had to roll down the longer 122 mile route—which was just fine because the route was fine (mostly!).

Winding along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and through a couple towns/outposts was awesome! I love how clear the rivers are! As you approach Marias Pass stunning views of Glacier National Park’s peaks appear. So hard to keep my eyes on the road.

On the east side of Marias Pass I passed by East Glacier (another route to the park) because the railroad bridge wouldn’t let Synko pass under (and because long loads aren’t permitted on MT 49 either). So I continued to Browning and then headed back westward to St Mary, the real eastside entrance to the Park.

US Highway 89 to St Mary
US Highway 89 to St Mary

That highway, US 89 was also under severe construction and I ended up shifting into four-wheel-drive to gain traction over the loose dirt and steep grade. I would not have wanted to drive that road in a half-ton truck or without 4WD. Anyway, I arrived at the nice KOA in the junction town of St. Mary and grilled up some wings for dinner, also mapping out my itinerary into the park on Saturday.

Glacier.

I bought the GNP t-shirt that just said “Glacier.” on a background of Montana because I though it was simple & solid. The national park is anything but simple & solid. It’s stunning & spectacular! I’ve wanted to visit here since high school (you know, for the past 20 years!) and my dream was coming true.

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

Going to the Sun Road is phenomenal. From the lower land meadows and large lakes on each side through craggy peaks and sheer cliff faces the road winds 52 miles across the Continental Divide and between the Park’s western and eastern portals. Exhibits in the visitor centers pique your interest in the incredible geology of the mountains. The power at work, through an awesome Creator’s hand never ceases to amaze and humble me. God, I love the mountains!

Crowds were fairly heavy but not overwhelming. I took advantage of the park’s shuttles a couple times to avoid parking hassles but I wanted the experience of driving Going to the Sun myself. It. Is. An. Experience. For the most part, the road is good and provides outstanding views of peaks, waterfalls, meadows, creeks, lakes, trees. The rivers simply amazed me in how the sparkling water rushes over colored rocks, so clear and pristine. In slower-moving pools, the glacier water reflects beautiful turquoise colors. It’s unreal beauty.

In other sections the road narrows considerably along the sheer cliff face and I knew I wasn’t being too cautious by folding my mirrors in when I saw other F250s with their ears tucked in too! There were a couple spots where I slowly snuck by oncoming traffic. On the east side of Logan Pass I passed an oncoming rig towing a 25-30 foot Airstream. What a fool. Back in camp later I was chatting with my neighbors who had advised the Park Service of this errant dude. The rangers said they’d intercept him but by that time, he’d have significant damage to his trailer. Yeah, the tunnels and cliff overhangs are real. I dunno how he missed the restriction signs, or if he was just “special.” Wasn’t my problem…

When I reached the west side (where I’d been with Synko in tow the day before) I fueled up to save $1.00 a gallon vs. the price in St. Mary and headed back across the Continental Divide. I enjoyed a quick stop at 1913-era Lake McDonald Lodge for a TwoSki Brewski Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing and then headed back up the hill. About three hours later I was back in St Mary and chatted with a cool lady from Hawaii by way of Calgary. We enjoyed a couple drinks at the local pub and then I headed back to camp (alas, alone, lol). My first visit to Glacier was so great; I’d be returning in a week to take in the “Many Glacier” section of the park.

Leaving There

But until then, in the morning I stowed my good wines and shotgun at the KOA since Canada is averse to such evils. Clearing customs 20 miles from St Mary was a breeze this time, quite different than last year when I tried to take my gun with me. The customs official asked if I had any firearms and when I said, “no” he replied, “you’re from Texas and don’t have a gun?!” I told him I’d left them at the campground in St. Mary and he waved me on through.

The drive through southern Alberta’s green and yellow farmland was easy and in a couple hours I arrived in Calgary and checked into the biggest hole of a campground I’ve found. But it was just for the one night to position me close to Banff and my next destination in Golden, BC. I was headed toward a couple more national parks (this time in Canada) that I’ve wanted to visit in the 20 years since high school!

People I’ve talked with tell of wonderful sights in Banff and Jasper. I can’t wait to get there!

Canadian Rockies

Banff & Yoho National Parks

I slogged through Calagary traffic, headed west toward the mountains. I’d seen dark outlines of them in my left window while driving up from Glacier in Montana, and I was ready to put the city behind me after just a quick overnight. Nothing bad to say about Calgary (other than the crappy campground); I just wanted to get back to the mountains.

As soon as I cleared the outskirts of town traffic slowed and stopped. The radio reported a bad wreck ahead on Trans-Canada Highway 1 and traffic crawled along at 5-10 MPH for 75 minutes. By the time I started moving again all signs of wreckage were gone and traffic flow returned to 100 KPH (60 MPH). Soon I began winding up into the foothills and into Banff National Park.

Absolutely gorgeous! Seems all the rivers and streams run turquoise from the glacier runoff. Pretty stunning views of rivers, meadows, and towering mountains. Much of TC-1 through the park is protected from wildlife by high fences that don’t obstruct the view at all but keep vehicle and large mammal encounters to a minimum. As you travel along, the road crosses 44 wildlife crossing structures—tunnels and bridges built to allow animals to migrate and not have to cross lanes of traffic to do so. Wildlife underpasses are there for black bears and cougars while the overpasses better serve grizzlies, elk and deer. It’s a great execution of a very cool idea that saves wildlife from execution!

I exited the highway to enter the town of Banff and squeezed through the touristy mountain town. With Synko in tow there really wasn’t anyplace to stop, as the RV lot at the visitor center was already jammed with Civic Day holiday tourists. So I continued through Bow Valley on toward Golden where I’d hang for three nights. Banff looked like it’d be a nice play to stay for a few days but it’s much like other mountains towns, so I wasn’t too disappointed at having to keep rolling.

The beautiful drive continued up to the Lake Louise exit and then turns west and through Yoho National Park. It’s a 76 kilometer (45 mile) roll downhill to where the Kicking Horse River joins the Columbia in the town of Golden. The highway through Yoho follows the Kicking Horse through a glacial valley, providing countless scenic views. I eventually passed through Golden and pulled into a fine campsite at Golden Eco Adventure Ranch a couple miles south of town. In a few days I’d backtrack and visit Lake Louise on my way to Jasper National Park. In the meantime there were a couple other parks in the Canadian Rockies I wanted to visit.

Glacier & Mt Revelstoke National Parks

There’s lots of construction on TC-1, widening to four lanes, upgrading brake-check pullouts and easing some curves. But the highway department does a good job to keep traffic flowing. Once entering Canada’s Glacier National Park the road passes through several snow sheds in the tight valley where avalanches are common. This busy, crucial road must cost a fortune to maintain.

Glacier NP (7404)
Glacier NP (7404)

Several trailheads originate near the visitor center atop Rogers Pass. I wasn’t hiking though. Even if a stabbing muscle pull in my chest (not my heart!) hadn’t been giving me grief I wouldn’t have headed down any trail in the area. They are serious about grizzly bears around here! Warning signs are everywhere; trail permits often require groups of at least four; and bear spray is sold at every store and kiosk. It’s implied, “if you head out you’ll likely encounter a black or grizzly bear.” Even in established RV campgrounds you’re required to store BBQ grills and any cooking gear inside when not in use. The owner of Whitetooth Brewing in Golden shared with me a video of a guy this week who was inside a tent while a grizzly was knocking on the tent’s door. Impressive.

The wonderful road continues through the mountains to Mount Revelstoke National Park, home to a unique inland/mountain rainforest. Meadows in the Sky Parkway which departs from the town of Revelstoke is a twisty climb to the near-summit alive with wildflowers and views of so many mountain peaks. I like how the park guide puts it: Mount Revelstoke is rainforest, snowforest, no forest. Perfect!

I stopped into Mt Begbie Brewing in Revelstoke for a quick flight of their good beers before heading back 148 kilometers (89 miles) across Rogers Pass and home to Golden. Famished by the time I got back to camp I broke out the grill. I dry rubbed a sirloin with finely ground Columbian coffee, garlic powder and freshly cracked black pepper then grilled it Pittsburgh style, accompanied by spears of zucchini drizzled with olive oil and simply sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt & black pepper. It was excellent!

Domesticating

Originally I planned to drive back up to Banff for a day but decided I could incorporate a visit to Lake Louise on my way to Jasper. And since Synko had gotten pretty dang dusty the past couple weeks I spent the day mostly hanging at camp giving the rig a good inside cleaning and reordering of a jumbled pantry and cabinet contents. Road construction back in Montana had taken its toll on things… Enjoyed an incredible bison burger at The Bear’s Den for lunch then grilled some chicken, marinated in mesquite spices for din-din. The chicken would be lunch/dinner for a few days. It was kinda nice to have a lay day.

Jasper National Park

The drive back up the Kicking Horse Valley from Golden to Lake Louise takes about an hour. When I arrived at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot to gab the shuttle into town I learned the wait was two hours. While disappointed to not visit this iconic town I wasn’t hanging around for two hours. I had a long drive on Icefields Parkway ahead of me.

Jasper NP Icefield Parkway – Athabasca Glacier (7444)
Jasper NP Icefield Parkway – Athabasca Glacier (7444)

Icefields Parkway is an awesome 3-4 hour drive through forests, meadows, along rivers, over passes and, of course, by glaciers! There were a gazillion people at Icefields Discovery Center which made it virtually impossible to park my rig anywhere close to the making a glacier hike possible, especially since that stupid chest muscle was still a little sore. I’ve hiked across small glaciers before so I didn’t consider this a significant loss. After checking out the discovery center (and declining a >$100 glacier tour) I saddled up Synko again and headed down the pass into the Jasper region.

I had to continue about an hour east of Jasper to get a campsite (still too many people out here!) but enroute to the town of Hinton, Alberta I encountered at least 8-10 bighorn sheep on the road. So very cool to see these beautiful animals!

A quick overnight and then in the morning I was retracing the 144 miles across Icefields Parkway to TC-1. I followed TC-1 a short distance back east to Highway 93 which leads west and south through Kootenay National Park and down through congested Radium Hot Springs toward the town of Cranbrook and checked into a brand new KOA which, inarguably, has the best utility setups I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes it’s the simple things…

I’d reached the westernmost point of my trip in Spokane and in Hinton had gone as far north as I’d travel this time. I was looking forward to the last third of this trip, joining Julie & Brad in South Dakota and Wyoming. But first, I needed to revisit St Mary, MT to reclaim my shotgun and vino. I was also looking forward to taking in the Many Glaciers section of our Glacier National Park! More about that later. Cheers—and happy birthday, Julie!

The Black Hills

Devils Tower

After leaving Teddy Roosevelt National Park I rolled south, following the North Dakota/Montana border into South Dakota and then Wyoming to arrive at Devils Tower. Pretty cool looking piece of rock! The trail around the dome is interesting and has great views of the tower. Sighted lots of climbers and one guy looking over the side from the top. Have never had any desire whatsoever to climb rocks but respect the skills and strength of those who do.

Deadwood & Lead

A quick 89 mile drive to Deadwood, SD wound through eastern Wyoming’s farmlands and through the Black Hills National Forest. I checked into the cool, cozy and cramped KOA. Nice place tucked into the side of the mountain but the terraced sites leave little room for maneuvering or parking. Regardless, I got one of the better sites and was good with that. Once settled I headed into the historic mining and brawling town.

Deadwood is cool, kinda touristy. I hit a couple of the historic saloons and left the cemetery and other historic sites until Brad & Julie arrived. Back at camp I grilled a pork loin and just chilled.

Friday was laundry day. I’d rather have my teeth drilled. It had been a couple weeks so I filled all four washers at the campground and at least killed the miserable chore in an hour or so. Rewarded myself with a visit to Dakota Shivers Brewery in Lead (leed). Ubercool place. Yes, it’s my latest favorite brewery! Bought their stainless mug and a t-shirt. I only get shirts from breweries I really like, and then the shirt needs to be cool. Theirs are.

Hill City & More

En route to Hill City to meet up with Julie and Brad I rolled through Rapid City and got a haircut and a much needed bath for Synko. Nearly an hour later I was set up in our adjoining campsites, put a hoodie on to battle this chill and waited for Julie & Brad to arrive. Kay & Dave came over and we all headed out for a brew at Miner Brewing Company in town, followed by pretty decent buffalo/elk burger at Slate Creek Grill.

Needles Highway (7539)
Needles Highway (7539)

In the morning we headed out, got a check in the box at Mount Rushmore and then drove through Custer State Park and onto the Needles Highway. Needles Highway is yet another wonderful road that winds through trees, across a couple ridges and through very narrow and low tunnels among outcroppings of wind chiseled rock. The Eye of the Needle had us folding in side mirrors and ducking low. Extremely cool! A couple videos of the tunnels: A Fairly Wide Tunnel and Eye of the Needle.

From Needles Highway we made the couple hour drive back over to Devils Tower so Julie & Brad and Dave & Kay could enjoy that pretty cool site. Then we headed back to camp but this time through Spearfish Canyon. Another wonderful road. This part of the country is full of ’em! Our day culminated around a campfire enjoying a couple cocktails in the chilly evening. ‘Twas a perfect way to wrap up a week in the beautiful Black Hills.

Next, on to Yellowstone!

 

Western Colorado

Pagosa Springs

The drive from Red River southeast toward Taos and then northwest through Carson National Forest was beautiful. West of Tres Piedras, New Mexico the highway winds through rolling mountains, past lush meadows and across a couple ridge lines where there were still a few patches of snow hanging in there. Eventually the route crosses into Colorado to wind its way up and then down into the cool town of Pagosa Springs. It was really a pleasant drive, despite the jackelope in the Class A holding up a long string of traffic who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—squeeze more than 40 miles an hour out of his rig. I got around the lineup using a few straightaway sections of passing lane.

Tuesday started with phoning in to my 121 life group to hang with the guys for an hour. Followed that up with a hike along the raucous Piedra River. Started out as a beautiful day—sunny, warm, fun trail. Then a thunderstorm built up and dropped rain, small hail and lightening bolts. Like a dumbass, I’d forgotten a rain poncho (always carry rain gear in the mountains!) and I quickly got soaked and cold. But the rewards of the mountain rain aromas, the echoing of the bone rattling thunder and the dramatic colors of cloud and sun sparring were worth every shiver. Just before the storm blew in I’d spent maybe 20 minutes just sitting on a rock enjoying creation. The storm reminded me of what a thunderous God we have!

Finally back at camp I took advantage of their shower facility because I knew I wanted lots of hot water and didn’t wanna fill my holding tank. LOL, I felt a lil bad abot how much hot water I used but so it goes.

Wednesday I ventured outside my comfort zone and hit the hot springs at the resort in town. Going for a quick soak after a workout or rough day, sure, but just sitting around for a couple hours soaking in communal juices is kinda a stretch. But I gotta say, it was cool (the water was hot, lol) and I got a check in that box. Followed that up with a visit to Riff Raff on the Rio for their Yak & Tequila Chorizo meatloaf. It did not disappoint! The brewpub’s beers are good but didn’t really knock me back. The view of the river and mountains sure did.

Durango

The easy 90 minute drive to Durango landed me at the Riverside KOA north of town. Nice campground nestled in the trees alongside the fast-flowing Animas River. This location flooded out last year after the rains followed a pretty devastating fire and it’s been nicely rebuilt.

Historic Durango is a cool town with several hotels, restaurants, pubs & breweries. I bypassed the numerous gift shops to sample a few brews instead. While meandering around Durango I wandered into the railroad museum at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This donation-only eclectic museum is packed with railroad memorabilia, antique cars, an old Indian motorcycle and tons of other seemingly random stuff. It’s definitely worth a visit if you like trains.

D&SNGRR

I’ve wanted to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for as long as I can remember. So I ponied up $200 for a seat in the Alamosa parlor car. The four hour trip, each way, is nothing short of amazing! The Alamosa is the last car in the train so you get outstanding views from the back platform.

I’m not sure why I like trains so much but I do. The coal-fired steam engine just sounds so cool as it chugs up the track. And the screeching and clacking of the wheels really is the rhythm of the rails is all (you) feel. The four-hour trip was over before I knew it. The slideshow pics simply fail to render how gorgeous the scenery is.

Our porter, Ellie, was wonderful. Her knowledge of geography & history and a commitment to superb service made the trip so enjoyable. Each round trip up & down from Durango to Silverton consumes five to six tons of coal (all shoveled by one guy) and about 10,000 gallons of water, which we replenished at a couple stops along the way.

The short layover in the mining town provides only time for lunch and a quick shopping stop for those so inclined. I didn’t mind since I was spending the next two days in Silverton. I was glad I did not opt for the quicker return via bus. The train ride is just too good and is clearly one of, if not the best tourist attractions I’ve ever experienced. If you’re ever near Durango be sure to take this trip. If you’re not near Durango go there.

Our return trip downhill was cold, sometimes rainy & the skies threw down some sleet and hail. But that didn’t dampen the experience I just threw on a heavier sweatshirt.

D&SNGRR Videos

Rhythm of the Rails
Animas River & Train View #1
Animas River & Train View #2
Animas River Rear View #1
Animas River Rear View #2
Cliffside View #1
Cliffside View #2

As a side note, I’ve added a page that shows the National Parks & Monuments I’ve visited. Check it out here.

Western Colorado Part II

Wonderful Risky Road

Heading north from Durango the Million Dollar Highway weaves its way up-valley, crossing a few high mountain passes. US Highway 550 requires diligent attention to downhill speed, several times as slow as 10-20 MPH. With 14,000 pounds behind me and sheer drop-offs, I heeded the speed warning signs! As risky as the road might be it’s a stunning drive. I arrived in the historic mining town of Silverton for a couple days. Silverton is base to tons of off-highway roads and the economy has transitioned from mining to renting ATV & OHVs. There’s a popular loop that runs between Silverton, Lake City and Ouray and I headed up that road for several miles before it was still closed due to slides. I probably wouldn’t have gone all the way anyway, as the road is pretty narrow and rocky, best suited for jeeps and OHVs. A long-bed truck runs the real risk of high-centering. Outside of the D&SNGRR crowds who flood the town each afternoon, Silverton is a pretty sleepy village. Even the bordellos have closed up (dang it!). Lunch at Thee Pitts Again, which has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, was only fair (think Spring Creek). Meat U Anywhere and AJs on Main in Grapevine serve up much better BBQ. Half a pizza for dinner and a Pizza Girl Black Lager at Avalanche Brewing were great!

Welp, the drive from Durango to Silverton is nothing compared to the northern section from Silverton to Ouray. Gorgeous, but I’d never consider this road at night or in the rain while towing a fiver. There’s a few videos from my newly acquired dash cam below.

Ouray

Ouray is a really cool little mountain town. A bit touristy but still very cool and very friendly. Troy’s crew at the Ouray KOA are awesome. I’m kinda jealous; he just bought the campground. Gonna be looking into that…

Ouray Perimeter Trail
Ouray Perimeter Trail

Friday I hiked the Ouray Perimeter Trail. This isn’t your typical walk around town. Yes, the trail has great views of Ouray but it also gets away from civilization with sections that wind into canyons and across plateaus. Clockwise from the visitor center the trail climbs constantly until it drops into cool Cascade Falls canyon. After that it rises & falls until the final stretch drops steeply back into town. The southern section through Ice Park is mosquito city and doesn’t add a lot to the overall loop; I should’ve taken the Ice Park shortcut. The reported 6-mile loop took me 5 hours, with a few stops at waterfalls and river crossings. I ran outta water the last mile-ish and got super dehydrated. I laid very low the rest of the day and the next. Lesson learned (dumbass). 🥵


Ok, I’m always skeptical of food offered at a campground. But I got to visit with Troy, the new owner of the Ouray KOA, and he insisted their weekend BBQ was very good. I’d had breakfast at the small café and it was, indeed, excellent. The combo BBQ plate Saturday evening (which I got halfway through for just $20) was some of the best I’ve had anywhere. Props to this campground for such a good operation in a beautiful place!

Made a day trip, backtracking 23  miles to Silverton. I wanted to drive the Million Dollar Highway again, this time without Synko in tow so I could easily pull off to enjoy the sights. Took another spur near Silverton, up South Mineral Creek about six miles. On the way out I saw two moose head off the road into the brush. Very cool!

Check out a couple video slices from my dashcam of Million Dollar Highway in the links below. It’s a beautiful, wild drive—especially towing 35′ Sykno!

Video Links

Million Dollar Highway I
Million Dollar Highway II
Million Dollar Highway III
Million Dollar Highway IV
Cascade Falls – Ouray
Bear Creek Falls

That’s it for now. I’m headed to Montrose for an engine oil change, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Gunnison, Lake City and Crested Butte to wrap up my western Colorado travels in the next week or so. Happy trails!

 

Western Colorado PART III

Montrose

It’s a short drive from Ouray to Montrose but there ain’t nothing wrong with rolling slow! Checked into a mediocre site at the KOA in town then headed over to Montrose Ford for an engine oil change. Great, quick service! Then a restocking visit to City Market and a stop by Horsefly Brewing for a couple quick beers. The Bug Eyed Blond was nondescript but their Green Chili Lager was pretty decent.

July 4th I headed over to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. What a rugged, remote, forbidding canyon! Pretty amazing history of its exploration and the 10,000 foot tunnel they built through the mountain to bring water to Uncompaghre Valley farmers. Spending time in one of our National Parks seemed like a good fit to our national holiday. Wrapped up the day enjoying President Trump’s Salute to America and then listening to local dogs bark at the fireworks going off. Friday’s drive over the hill to Gunnison was very pretty through rolling hills, mountain canyons and alongside the reservoirs of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Really nice. I see why it’s another scenic byway.

Gunnison

Gunnison is another town on my short (but growing) list of possible long-term stay towns. Made the drive up to Mount Crested Butte for a quick revisit of a weekend ski trip years ago. It wasn’t as cold as it was then (minus 27 Fahrenheit). High Alpine Brewing Company on Gunnison’s Main Street serves up really good groceries and good brews. I especially liked their Basil Pale Ale, though the ? Double IPA was pretty fine too.

After an attempt to attend camp church Sunday morning I gave up, as the Internet gods kept throwing inconsistent bandwidth my way. Got too frustrating so I clicked off and headed into the hills to see what Lake City was all about. Lake City is a cool mountain town, not as quaint as Silverton but nice nevertheless. Lots of avalanche debris on the road outta town toward the season-long closed Engineer Pass. Lake City Brewing Company on the OHV road in town has decent brats and good beer; I enjoyed their San Juan Pale Ale and ’74 IPA.

Got back to Gunnison in time for a good downpour and lingering rain for most of the early evening. The rain, happily, washed tons of cottonwood pollen out of the air. Earlier the stuff had been falling like snow showers.

Colorado, for Now

As I started heading north and west, away from Colorado for now, I took the much less direct road from Gunnison to Grand Junction. State highway 92 runs north from Gunnison area, following the Black Canyon lands for a while then rolling up & down across a few ridges. After a couple hours state 65 heads north, onto and across Colorado’s Grand Mesa. Beautiful drive that is probably 2-3 times as long as the direct route through Montrose, but worth it. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway earns its stripes.

Before heading out to destinations beyond Colorado I visited the Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument. Cool drive through the rimrock of Colorado NM and then a nice drive north to Jensen and Dinosaur NM. Really extensive finding of dinosaur bones in very good condition.  Glad they had the foresight to preserve these fossils as they were uncovered.

The drive up the hill took me out of Colorado and into Utah’s Ashley National Forest and Flaming Gorge Recreation Area than spans Utah and Wyoming. Snagged a nice campsite nestled in the trees at Mustang Ridge. Where to from here tomorrow? Stay tuned!

Idaho Part I

A Bit of Utah before Idaho

From Mustang Ridge I headed to the west side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Nice drive across open brush-covered land with surprising grades along the way. In just a couple hours I arrived at Buckboard Crossing, a sleepy marina and sparsely occupied campground. But the campground’s dripping water sprinklers did draw the local pronghorns. Very cool to watch these animals.

Neighbors a couple sites down gave me two awesome filets of freshly caught Kokanee salmon. Sure beat the hell outta the frozen fish I had planned. Simply seasoned with lemon pepper and grilled skin side down, the pink flesh was incredible!

There’s not a lot of attractions between Flaming Gorge and Idaho so I put in a 6+ hour drive to Arco, Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument. I did stop by Fossil Butte National Monument for a few minutes. Anyone who’s into fossils would love this visitor center and quarry. I was impressed by the quality of the displays and knowledge of the Rangers.

Eastern Idaho

Arco, Idaho is a sleepy town (outpost?) near Valley of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This national park land is awesome in its starkness, rawness, ruggedness, fragility. You can imagine the incredible power that created all the cinder cones and spatter cones and lava flows in this region. Truly amazing! I’ve pretty much come to learn that if you’re near a National Park or Monument, visit it!

After two nights in Arco, including a truck wash that unfortunately would not also accommodate Synko who is needing a bath in a bad way, I headed north.

The drive up Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (which I did in the direction of Craters to Peaks) is gorgeous, winding along the Salmon River through wide valleys and tight canyons. I pulled into tiny Shoup Bridge Rec Area and snagged one of the seven $5 campsites alongside the Salmon. Pretty good digs for Mark.

The town of Salmon has services sufficient to get one by—just not on a Sunday, as the hardware and grocery stores were closed (kinda a nice throwback to better days!). I did sniff out Bertram’s Brewery on Main Street and, while lunch was good, the brews were only fair. I returned to my riverside retreat for the evening.

I continued heading up the Salmon River Scenic Byway to North Fork and camped at the very cool Wagonhammer Campground near North Fork. My site on the river was awesome! Beautiful views of the Salmon as it ran past, hills on both sides of the valley and lush, green grass throughout the campsite. A near-perfect campsite.

Without Synko in tow I drove up to Lost Trail Pass which separates Idaho and Montana. Nice hour-long drive to the pass, checking out several Lewis & Clark historical sites along the way. Those dudes were men.

Sawtooth National Rec Area

After a couple days in North Fork I headed south again to Stanley, the gateway to the Sawtooth National Rec Area. I see why they call ’em sawtooths—them are some rugged peaks! By the time I got to Stanley and got my bearings the most desired campgrounds were full. The friendly volunteer at the NFS ranger station recommended an area of dispersed camping off the Sawtooth Scenic Byway near Pettit Lake so I checked it out. It was a few miles up a dirt road and was pretty enough but, it just did not feel right; my spirit was not comfortable with it. So I ended up in an ok site at the NFS Salmon campground, just outside Stanley. It was fine for an overnighter after a full day’s drive but I wanted something better.

So in the morning I scouted out a couple other dispersed camping areas and landed in a cool spot off the road to Stanley Lake. The forest was mine and without any facilities I gave my new inverter and solar panels a workout; they performed flawlessly, powering the TV, Dish antenna and a couple quick microwave spurts. I did question, though, the wisdom of watching the movie The Edge while camped remotely in the woods. Sounds of wind and probably a few squirrels or deer outside in the middle of the night had me thinking bear and reaching for the shotgun, just in case!

After a couple days of remote camping near Stanley Lake I planned to spend another night in the Boise National Forest along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (lots of scenic byways in Idaho!). Unfortunately a wildfire was burning across the area, even requiring NFS escorts through a couple sections where fires and work crews were active. The air quality was less than stellar and signs of previous fires a couple/few years ago were prominent. I checked a couple campgrounds and dispersed sites along the way but didn’t find anything particularly compelling. (I’ve come to dislike weekends and especially holidays, as they bring out all the weekend campers. Just stay home, willya.)

Boise

I continued rolling down the hill and ended up in Boise about 3pm. Now that I’d finally returned to cellular coverage I called a couple campgrounds in town and found them to be full—thanks to the Garth Brooks concert Saturday night. (So I guess I’m not fond of concerts, either, lol.). As I was headed across town to a Harvest Hosts winery for the night, Brighton at Mountain View RV called me back and said they’d had a cancellation for the night. I told her I was enroute to Huston Vineyards but a minute later Huston returned my earlier voicemail to let me know they were in the midst of their release weekend and had no room at the inn. So I called Brighton back and took her up on the offer of the cancelled site. The tour of I-84 across southern Boise and back was oh-so-beautiful. Ha.

After setting up camp I drove by the apartment where I’d lived a few months after high school. Kinda cool to see the old place again, even if it had weathered some. Hell, I’ve weather some too! Also recalled the motel bar where my high school pal Joe Gomez and I would hang out Friday nights until they closed at 2am. Then the bar would reopen at 3am and we’d last another hour or so before going to work at 7am. I was less weathered way back then!

Seeing the old haunts also reminded me of the scam we pulled while working as receiving and checking clerks at the local grocery store chain. The story went something like this:

The milk delivery driver would hit Joe’s store first and leave a few extra cartons of milk which Joe would trade cookies for. Then the cookie driver would visit my store across town where we’d trade cookies for RC cola. And then the RC cola guy would pick up a couple cases of Coors back at Joe’s store. By the time we’d perfected our thievery the RC cola driver was delivering Coors beer to our apartment. We had cases stacked in the corner of our kitchen. We made only enough money to pay the $215 rent, drink, chase a few girls and watch TV at the coin-operated TVs in the Boise airport concourse. I’m not saying I’m proud of that caper today but we had a good time—as best I remember! I’m more weathered and wiser today (for the most part!).

After checking outta the Mountain View RV park near the airport I headed across town to the local KOA for a few nights to get Synko washed and my back adjusted by a Max Living doc in Boise. I’d also plot out my itinerary for the next couple weeks up the west side of Idaho and into Montana and Glacier National Park. Headed north in a couple days so I’ll get back to the blog in a week or so. Cheers!

Idaho Part II

Boise

My four nights/three days in Boise were good. And kinda expensive. The tread on my truck tires was getting down there so I pulled into a Discount Tire. The sales guy said I could get another 600-800 miles outta the tires but we noticed a sharp rock embedded in the core of the right front tire. Having none of that and since Boise was the last major city I’d be in for the next month, I put four new tires on the truck. $1000. It had been about seven weeks since I’d had my back adjusted so I visited a Max Living clinic to get squared away. Steven Baker at Prehab is an excellent chiropractor and I walked out straighter & taller and feeling like a million bucks. Money well spent! A supply run to Costco rang up $170. Harbor Freight took about $50 from my wallet. And Pips Detailing wrung out another $175 plus tips to get the bugs and grime off Synko before they became part of the gel coat. The truck wash (before the rain) was $15. Oh well.

Food wise, Sockeye Brewing served up a very good salmon with a couple good brews, the Dangerous Golden Stout really really really good; Cloud 9 Brewery downtown came through with maybe the best BLT I’ve had. Their Honey Basil Ale and NSN IPA were both pretty tasty, as well. At Barbarian Brewing downtown I enjoyed the Tequila Watermelon Sour so much I grabbed a couple crowlers to go to share with Julie. And with that, my 43 year return to Boise was a wrap. But I wanna go back for a guys weekend to enjoy the many breweries in town.

North Idaho

Wednesday I headed north on Idaho 55. What a drive! The Payette River Scenic Byway is a beautiful route through narrow canyons and across broad valleys. The twisty road hugged the rapidly flowing river much of the way. I loved it, all the way to Kamiah. Loved all of it except the few seconds where some full-fledged idiot made a u-turn from the right shoulder in front of the hazardous gas truck I was behind. He smoked his brakes and tires to avoid hitting the moron. I was far enough behind that I only needed to brake moderately—and cuss out the ignoramus in the sedan. Glad the truck driver had quick reflexes. I swear people are getting dumber.

Kamiah is a small, sleepy town on the Clearwater River. The Clearwater Brewery and beer:30 Taproom doesn’t brew beer but comes with a good selection of northwest brews and friendly people. I also checked out Trestle Brewing in Ferdinand, about 30 miles away—another joint without their own beers but with friendly folk.

US Highway 12 headed north out of Kamiah is a tight, twisty drive along the Clearwater and through Hells Canyon Rec Area where the river is full of water and full of floaters. Great drive all the way to Lewiston. Lewiston still smells, some 43 years after I first visited here. It’s the paper mill, I guess. Continuing north to Coeur d’ Alene the highway passes through rolling hills of farmland. Still beautiful driving all the way to CDA.

It’s been about 30 years since I was in Coeur d’ Alene when I used to visit on business while with GTE. The resort on the lake seemed different than what I remembered. There were certainly more people. Goodness, the town was buzzing. And I’m pretty sure back then we didn’t pay anything close to the $700 a night they were asking for a water-view room. I struggled by with my $68 campsite on Blackwell Island before heading out to Spokane Valley in the morning. Popular destinations fill up on weekends; kinda annoys me that people just don’t stay home! 🤪

I’ve also had some challenges finding dispersed camping spots. There were plenty in Sawtooth National Rec Area but up here they don’t seem to be very big rig friendly and it’s too risky to just head off on a NFS road with 35′ of trailer not knowing what the road conditions will be. Been there, didn’t much care for it. So I spent some time plotting out reservations between here and Glacier National Park and looking at options to visit Banff and Jasper in Alberta, if I can find a place to stash my shotgun and about a case of premium vino for a weekish. Not paying Canada’s stupid import taxes or risking them finding my gun in a hidey hole.

While in Spokane Valley I visited Millwood Brewing. What a cool place! My latest favorite! Their products are all good, especially the Millbilly IPA and Frog Skin Porter with a splash of their own cream soda. Superb.

Farther North Idaho

I crawled through Spokane to head northeast on US 2. Passed by Gonzaga University, which I mention because every March I have to look up where the heck Gonzaga is; will probably remember now…

I wasn’t able to figure out a place to stay in Sandpoint: no private, no NFS, no dispersed camping sites. I’m thinking some boondock sites are out there but not knowing the area it’s hard to choose potential options from paper or online maps. So I defaulted to a KOA at Little Diamond Lake near Newport, WA. This ended up being a really cool KOA—not the typical parking lot of most. My site was nestled in the trees and faced away from the road so it made the firepit and table area really cool. I stayed two nights, not just the one I had planned. Partly because I liked the area and partly because I needed to spend some time researching how I could make Canada’s Banff & Jasper National Parks a part of the trip, given that it seems everyone is camping these days. (Have I mentioned people should strongly consider staycations?!)

Continuing north and east on US 2 (which I’ll eventually see a lot of as I head into the plains of Montana and North Dakota in a week or so), the drive was pleasant along Idaho-designated Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage into Sandpoint and then Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway north to Bonners Ferry before turning southeast to the West Glacier area. There was serious road construction about mid-way, where caravans of about 20 cars were led through by a pilot car. For five miles the road was dirt, mud, and ruts—a grand time.

I’d gone as far west as I’d go this trip and would continue north into Canada next week. And with that, I’m wrapping up what I consider the Rocky Mountains Early Summer portion of the trip. My next post will be in the, well, Rocky Mountains Late Summer category. More later from Glacier National Park!

Lone Star State

Getting Away

My first day towing the new rig was designed to be a short drive. As I was headed toward Austin to visit the state capitol (turns out, I didn’t) I mapped out a state park that was sorta en-route. Mother Neff, west of Temple, is an understated but nice park and I landed a superb campsite—one of the nicest in a state park. After a short hike in the morning to kick a tree stump and try to break my toe, I headed down the road to McKinney Falls State Park.

This campsite was less inviting and my apprehension about unhooking the fiver from the truck was discernible. But all went well and the rig stayed where I parked her. The auto-leveling system even handled the grade. Very pleased.

I headed into town to grab lunch at Lazarus Brewing where the carnitas tacos were good and my flight of tasters was fair—and then hit REI for a new pair of boots because hiking in athletic shoes is apparently stupid. Got some good boots.

New flash: Austin traffic sucks! I decided that if I was gonna visit the state capitol it’d be another time. For this trip, I’d hang at the park, check out the hiking trails and lay low before heading west. After Friday’s hike I scouted out St Elmo Brewing, whose Merle is an excellent oaked Czech Pilsner. Highly recommend!

After some tax return work (yuck) in the morning I headed out on another couple-hour drive to Fredericksburg and a free overnight at Messina Hof Winery.

Saturday brought a 385 mile, 7-hour drive from Fredericksburg to the Stillwell Store campground, 8 miles outside Big Bend National Park. Lots of good border patrol activity going on as I neared Del Rio; cleared a couple checkpoints. And now I’ve got enough miles with the new rig to get a feel for its fuel economy versus my previous, 5,000 pound lighter and less-tall trailer. The numbers did not go the direction I had optimistically hoped, lol.

Big Bend

Unable to join church online because there was no internet in the campground, I spent all day Sunday checking out the national park. I’ve wanted to come here for 30 years but it’s so dang far from anywhere! But it is worth it! Despite being spring break and the park being fairly crowded (no in-park campsites available), the place is so big you feel like it’s yours alone. And given that it’s spring, the desert was in full bloom! I know a blue bonnet when I see one but that’s about the extent of my flora knowledge. Suffice to say, the desert floor was painted in reds, yellows, whites and blues. Simply spectacular. A few of the images in the slideshow fail to capture the incredible blue bonnet field I came across. And the smells were amazing. God does an incredible job!

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park

The 30-mile Ross Maxwell  Scenic Drive is aptly named. This road winds throughout the park and offers great views and side trips. It eventually ends at Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande spills out into the valley floor. I chose to not backtrack but take Old Maverick road toward Terlingua. The speed limit on this dirt road is posted 25 MPH but the severe washboard surface kept me to about 15. Nevertheless it’s another pretty road and led me straight to Terlingua.

Quickly viewed the iconic Terlinqua cemetery and stopped in for some (appropriately) very good chili at the El Dorado hotel.

Texas Mountains!

Monday’s drive was through the Davis Mountains of West Texas and Guadalupe National Park. Who knew Texas had real mountains? Reminded me of the San Gabriels in Southern California. Made for a really enjoyable drive (except for 30 miles of I-10 blahs). Wrapped up the day with a visit to Carlsbad Caverns. More on that in the New Mexico post…

 

Arizona

Getting There

As I crossed into Arizona from New Mexico on US70 I was treated to beautiful displays of pale green grasses dotted with yellow and purple flowers. God’s sky also was on full display: broken clouds, patches of blue, and many rainbows. The clouds hugged nearby mountain peaks but occasionally allowed last night’s snowfall to show through. It was a gorgeous drive! As I continued toward Apache Junction the weather vacillated between sunshine, rain showers and a patch of snow-mixed rain. US70 became US60 as I continued west. Together, these solid roads made for a wonderful drive, and I was glad I’d left early enough to miss the brunt of the wind and enjoy the last fringes of the winter storm as it blew eastward. I’m tagging this route a wonderful road! And I lifted a prayer of thanks for safe travels and for the opportunity to enjoy the Creator’s fine work.

Spring Training

The Apache Junction KOA got us by. Pretty disappointing site but not the end of the world. Brad & Jonathan joined me Wednesday night (well, at midnight!). We enjoyed good times at the Rangers/Cubs game Thursday—including the biggest bestest Chicago Dog ever. Sunday we drove miles & miles to Surprise Stadium for the Dbacks/Rangers game. ‘Twas a more interesting game but the long drive made the visit to Sloan Park a little nicer. We took a couple-hour drive into Tonto National Forest Monday before I ran the boys back to the airport across town. Nice drive; the picture credits go to Brad.

Flagstaff

Tuesday brought a nice 3-4 hour drive up I-17 and AZ 89A thru Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. The road sign disallowed trucks over 50′ on the road north of Sedona but since I was not a “truck” per se, and measure just 53′ from bumper to bumper I fudged it and went ahead. Beautiful drive but. yep, tight turns. NTL, made it to Flagstaff and settled in for a few days at the attractive KOA on the north side of town. Some winter weather is forecast in a couple days and I’ll hang here until Saturday to catch the first couple rounds of March Madness. More later… …

It’s now “later”… A few snow showers Wednesday night & Thursday during the day. Made for pretty views outside Majerle’s sports grill where I  watched a few Madness games. I also found my newest favorite brewery—Mother Road. They’ve got an excellent lineup of IPAs, including Tower Station and Lost Highway,  plus a bourbon barrel stout which I’m going back for Friday.

Sunset Crater Volcano & Wupatki National Monuments

Gotta admit, I didn’t know these National Parks were here until I saw the road sign. They are just up the road from Flagstaff and turns out, they’re really cool. Sunset Crater Volcano is raw beauty. Stark. Powerful. Rugged. Fragile. It draws you in.

I took a couple short hikes, enjoying the lava rock trails and surrounding snow-capped mountains. As I was finishing up I encountered Eric, a parks volunteer. Nice old guy (I suppose I need to be careful how I say that!) who shared some info about the park and its geology. And he gave me a good restaurant tip for when I’m in Boulder, Utah in a week or so.

Continuing on toward Wupatki, the drive was incredible, overlooking Arizona’s Painted Desert. Not sure what I expected but the puebloan ruins were really interesting. Nice to see such old (circa 1100 A.D.) structures preserved. The day had warmed from the low 30s to the upper 40s and by the time I’d finished visiting the two parks I was ready to taste another of Flagstaff’s fine breweries.

After refilling a propane bottle (I’m blowing through them pretty quick in this long-enduring winter) I headed into historic downtown and Dark Sky Brewing where I had a flight of five tasters. The Magnum PI’s Pilsner was very good; I had my first Grisette; an interesting Kook Juice IPA featuring pineapple & coconut (good but a taster is enough); and wrapped up with their west coast Strength in Numbers and Send Me an Angel, both very good IPAs. Another favorite brewery discovered! Side note: their music comes from a vinyl LP player (Brett, that’s for you!).

Dinner was a great change of pace, visiting with my friend Maryann, who I hadn’t seen in (yikes!) about 25 years. We had a really good time chatting and catching up. Good friends, good times!

The Grand Canyon

After attending 121 “camp church” online, I headed into Williams for my ride on the Grand Canyon Railway to The Grand Canyon. I kinda feared the event would be a little skitchy but it wasn’t bad. The old west characters were actually entertaining and Annette, our purser, was great, sharing insights and some humor. The two-hour ride to Grand Canyon went by quickly.

I’d been to the Canyon before and it still impresses and amazes! Beautiful, stark, grand beauty. I walked the rim trail 3½ miles from Mojave Point to the El Tovar hotel where, given I only had about 30 minutes before needing to board the train again, I had a Tower Station IPA in the iconic lodge. The train was cool but it sure limits time at the park (about 3 hours).

I didn’t get down into the Canyon—my stupid knee would only gripe at me for the downhill. So seeing the creation from the rim had to do. (I just wish people knew how to get outta the way and walk to the right! It just ain’t that hard. All-in-all ’twas a good day topped off by an excellent Carne Chile de Molcajete at Fiesta Mexican Grill in Williams. Worth returning for that dish!

And with that, Arizona is done. Headed down the hill to Kingman then up remote US-93 to the Las Vegas area for a week. Gonna hang with Julie & Pam!